Professional registration and regulation of the healthcare science workforce

Scientist with microscope

27 / 10 / 2015 10.30am

Employers are responsible for their staff delivering high quality services, making sure there are strong processes in place resulting in quality care and positive patient experiences. It is important this is continually improving along with meeting the desired standard. This can be achieved through a variety of employment and workforce practices.

Employment and workforce practices

There are several areas where employers can provide assurance of the competency of their workforce. These include:

  • Recruitment - clear expectations and the use of NHS Employment Check Standards in addition to recruiting for values and behaviours
  • Supervision - ensure appropriate supervision of individuals where it is required
  • Continuing professional development - ensure staff continue to meet the professional requirements of their role and are up to date in their practice
  • Clear standards, expectations and boundaries - ensure appropriate delegation so that individuals do not operate outside of their competence
  • Effective appraisal - embed organisational values and behaviours into individual objectives
  • Policies - embed into day to day practice and support staff to challenge issues of concern appropriately.

Regulation and registration

Registration and regulation further enhances public assurance and protection and exists in several forms.

Some parts of the healthcare science workforce are regulated by statute (law) through registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), and other parts of the workforce participate in professional voluntary registration programmes and for some, neither registration nor regulatory systems currently exist.  

What does professional regulation mean for employers?

Professional regulation is intended to protect the public, making sure that those who practise in the healthcare profession meet required standards of education, competence and conduct. Registration with a relevant professional body can be an important indicator for an employer of a person’s competence and suitability.

Employers need to be familiar with the different ways that various career stages and specialisms of the healthcare science workforce are regulated. Employers are required to ensure that their employees are qualified and competent to perform the duties for which they are employed. Since Modernising Scientific Careers (MSC) training programmes have been accredited largely on the basis of providing training to individuals so that they are fit to work in the NHS, checking a person’s registration with the relevant regulatory/professional body is a vital part of this diligence.  Where appropriate, maintenance of registration should be a ‘contractual condition’ on employees throughout their employment.   

Key bodies associated with the regulation/registration of the healthcare science workforce

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA)

The PSA (formerly known as the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence) oversees the work of statutory and voluntary health and social care regulators, working with them to quality assure and enhance the way their registrants are regulated.  

Voluntary registration bodies can apply to the PSA for accreditation, creating Accredited Voluntary Registers for their profession. The assessment for accreditation by PSA is a thorough process, against a range of rigorous criteria that mirror statutory regulation, and therefore accreditation is a marker of effective regulation on the part of the voluntary registration body.

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is a statutory regulator set up to protect the public. It maintains and publishes registers of health and care professionals who meet their standards for their qualifications, training, professional skills, behaviour, and health. The HCPC also approves and upholds high standards of education and training and continuing good practice.

The HCPC regulates three groups in the healthcare science workforce who have protected titles. The three HCPC regulated groups are:

Hearing Aid Dispensers
Hearing Aid Dispensers work in both NHS and private practice and assess, fit, and provide aftercare for people with hearing aids. They are graduates with foundation or higher degrees. They have the protected title of Hearing Aid Dispensers.

Biomedical scientists

These are graduates with an approved biomedical science degree, or are graduates in the Life Sciences from the Modernising Scientific Careers (MSC) Practitioner Training Programmes (PTP). They have the protected title of Biomedical Scientist. 

Clinical Scientists (all specialisms)
These are individuals who have successfully completed the Masters level MSC Scientist Training Programme [STP] (or their equivalent). They have the protected title of Clinical Scientist and are eligible to apply for such roles.

When an individual successfully completes the Scientist Training Programme in healthcare science (STP), the Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS) will receive a Certificate of Completion from the National School of Healthcare Science. This includes evidence of achievement of both the appropriate academic award, and the work place based element, enabling the Academy to award the individual a Certificate of Attainment. On submission of this AHCS Certificate of Attainment to the HCPC by an individual, the HCPC will consider the applicant for admission to its register as a Clinical Scientist.

Employers should note that the AHCS has approval from HCPC to award a Certificate of Equivalence to individuals practising in the workforce who can demonstrate the standards of proficiency of a clinical scientist. This Certificate of Equivalence allows individuals to apply to the HCPC for regulation purposes. Find out more on the Academy's website.

The Academy for Healthcare Science (AHCS)

The Academy for Healthcare Science was established as a joint initiative of the UK Health Departments and the HCS professional bodies. It brings together the UK's diverse and specialised scientific community, who work across the health and care system.

The AHCS has been commissioned to develop consistent regulation for the healthcare science workforce, for example, by establishing accredited voluntary registers for the following groups:

Assistants and Associates 
The MSC programme is developing awards and qualifications for assistants and associates. There are currently no regulatory arrangements for individuals in these roles, however those who successfully complete a recognised education and training programme will be able to register with the AHCS in an accredited voluntary registration scheme. This is currently being developed by the Academy. 

Practitioners and the Practitioner Training Programme
Those who successfully complete the MSC Practitioner Training Programme (or their equivalent), and who are not biomedical scientists, can apply to join the practitioner register held by the Academy for Healthcare Science, which has been accredited by the PSA. 

Clinical Scientists and Higher Specialist Scientific Training
Those individuals who successfully complete Higher Specialist Scientific Training will already be Clinical Scientists regulated by the HCPC. They are also able to apply for registration with the AHCS on a Higher Specialist Register, conferring eligibility to apply for available Consultant Clinical Scientist roles. This register was endorsed by the PSA in October 2015. 

Accredited Scientific Practice
Accredited Scientific Practice arrangements are being put in place to enable individuals at all levels to develop new skills, in addition to those acquired through their basic qualification. There is also a requirement on the part of registering and regulatory bodies for all healthcare professionals to keep up to date and to undertake continuing professional development (CPD). To meet all these requirements a framework for healthcare science, which provides a formal programme for CPD reflecting patient and service needs, is being developed. A mechanism will be introduced with the Academy for Healthcare Science, on receipt of the required evidence of attainment, to recognise and accredit ASP and the development of skills in certain areas of scientific practice.

Future of healthcare science regulation and registration

The table below summarises the regulatory and anticipated registration arrangements that will be developed by the AHCS in the future:

Healthcare science role Type of regulation
Assistant and associate Currently evolving but expected to be registration with the AHCS in collaboration with other voluntary registration organisations.
Healthcare science practitioner (following the Practitioner Training  programme or equivalent) Life sciences - statutory regulation by the HCPC as a Biomedical Scientist (continuation of current regulation arrangements) Medical physics, clinical engineering and physiological sciences -Accredited registration with the AHCS in collaboration with existing voluntary registration professional bodies for example, Voluntary Register for Clinical Technology and Registration Council for Clinical Physiology.
Clinical scientist (following the Scientist Training Programme or equivalent) Statutory regulation as a Clinical Scientist by the HCPC (continuation of current regulation arrangements)
Consultant clinical scientist (following Higher Specialist Scientific Training HSST) Statutory regulation as a Clinical Scientist by the HCPC. Voluntary registration with the AHCS following higher specialist scientific training (HSST) or equivalence.

Find out more on our Academy for Healthcare Science webpage.

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